From Crimea to Abkhazia: Separatist Cruises
Separatist Abkhazia wants to have a boat link to no less separatist Crimea to ship tourists and trade across the Black Sea.
A Crimea-based ferry company, which suspended commutes to Turkey out of supposed patriotic considerations in the wake of the hostility between Turkey and Russia, now plans to send its ferry shuttling to and from Abkhazia. De-facto officials on the peninsula, which Russia wrested away from Ukraine in 2014, hope that this water link with Abkhazia, another Moscow protégé, can help mitigate the economic impact of the diplomatic chill and severed trade ties between Russia and Turkey.
“[The Crimean capital of] Sevastopol is mainly interested in bringing food products – vegetables and fruits -- from Abkhazia to replace imports from Turkey,” said Kiril Moskalenko, spokesperson for the Sevastopol Governor’s Office, the Russian-government-financed Sputnik news service reported. He said he is not quite sure what products Crimea can offer Abkhazia in return. Some, especially Abkhazia’s de-facto government, hope that one such commodity could be tourists.
Russia-endowed Abkhazia reportedly is now a shell of its former Soviet Riviera self. Russian tourists often complain about the lack of infrastructure and basic services, but many are still drawn by the palm trees and mountain vistas, and Abkhazia’s former reputation as the most desirable seaside resort in the USSR.
For Crimeans, as for many Russians, Abkhazia likely appears as an affordably exotic vacation destination. The peninsula’s tour companies say that the West’s sanctions and refusal to call Crimea part of Russia made it harder for Crimean residents to travel abroad.
By contrast, breakaway Abkhazia has lots of potential since Russian passport holders essentially are allowed right on in.
“You don’t need a visa, nor an international passport to go there,” one travel agent said.
This talk only underscores the up-in-the-air status of Abkhazia, which is adamant about its independence from Georgia, but still nearly entirely dependent on Russian economic and defense support. Russia's state-run TASS news agency refers to them as the “young Caucasus republics,” and recently claimed, like a proud mother, that the kids plan to complain soon to the UN about Georgia’s growing ties with NATO.
In turn, the “young Caucasus republics'” government-run news devote much of their reporting to extoling eternal friendship to Russia. In one recent heart-rending piece, Abkhazia's de-facto official news service Apsnypress wrote about a letter from an Abkhaz schoolboy to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he asked for his autograph.
Written in the best tradition of Soviet-era journalism, using language reminiscent of the period’s coverage of American elementary-school student Samantha Smith’s 1982 letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, the boy also asked Putin to renovate his school in Sokhumi, Abkhazia’s main city.
Putin obliged with an autographed photo of himself in a hockey outfit.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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